So today I’m thinking about signing up for Grad Poetry Writing Workshop for next semester. This terrifies me. I took Fiction and Verse Writing from Prof. Baseball at Montevallo in probably 92 or so, and what ended up happening was something like stage fright. I don’t think I wrote a single poem while I was in that class. I brought old poems to class, edited a few maybe, made the occasional comment on other people’s stuff, and was mostly baffled about the Process of Writing Poetry. I did write one original thing in that class — the first and last short story I’ve ever done (excepting the Duran Duran fantasy and slash fic I used to write when I was 12-ish and before I knew that stuff like that had a name. I used to do awful things to Simon Le Bon on looseleaf paper. I burned all of that when I was … probably twelve or thirteen.)

I’m afraid of a repeat. I’m afraid of putting the Muse to the Test. I don’t know and have never known how to construct a poem outside of that manic flow of whatever that hits. I recognize this as a problem and as totally fucking retarded, but that’s where I’m at. And I’m quite frankly mortified by the idea of exposing stuff I write to the “suggestions” of others. Especially if this class turns out like every other class and has its share of total fucking morons in it. There’s something modest, and virginal, and tentative, about writing poetry for me. I have to writing poetry the attitude that good little christian girls have toward sex. Twisted. Hard to explain.

So there’s fear of that. But this is something I need to do.

***

I was thinking today about the time I went to visit my friend Claudia in Germany, when I was about twelve. (It seems like everything I thought about today tied into Roughly That Time Frame). I was thinking about, of all things, how my dad’s voice sounded on the phone when he called me about five weeks into my stay in Rheinfelden. Of course Claudia’s family spoke English around me, but they also spoke German around me too, and five weeks of being surrounded by the tones and accents and pitches and crescendoes of German had tuned my ear a different way. I wasn’t speaking it, of course, I never could, despite the later three year stint in country, but I could understand *some* and read some.

Anyway, I was not prepared for how my dad sounded on the phone. Actually, the first weird thing was simply that we were able to have a phone conversation, across an ocean, across eight imaginary hours of time that divided us along with that ocean. That was kind of amazing to me by itself. Then there the fact that he called me to talk to me on the phone. After about the age of six or seven, we were never really close, and he and I just didn’t talk like that — it would have been, and still to this day is, very unusual for him to initiate contact, conversation with me.

But the weirdest thing was his voice. He sounded far away on the black rotary phone that had a little window at the bottom that would tick away, like an odometer, as you talked, counting the minutes, none of which were free even locally in Germany. He sounded so southern, he sounded like a stereotype.  I had lost the ear for hearing him as familiar and heard him as foreign, as aurally alien, as marked.

So of course that got me thinking about how we do the Frequency thing with the places and people we kick around in and with. About how much familiarity or its lack can shape a person’s sense of what is possible, probable, permissible, verboten.

One time, fully grown if there is such a thing, a mother, after spending a long weekend in Hamburg, I was on my way back to Baumholder and just listened to people on the train. I never could speak or really understand German spoken rapidly, but I *could* tell that there were differences in accent, in shading, in emphasis, in small consonantal shifts, depending on region, and I listened to them change the further south we got. Then, around Frankfurt, I heard the Americans every once in a while. By the time I got to Idar Oberstein there were plenty of English speakers on the train, engaging actively in English Speaking, but it was like my ear was still on the wrong frequency. They sounded funny to me. They sounded brash, and dry, and sarcastic, and clinical, and humorless, and braying, and short. Not all at the same time, of course, but it was weird.

For a whole day at work, English seemed weird to me. Never mind that I had only spoken English the whole time I was in Hamburg, because I don’t speak anything else, and never mind that I was speaking English with people I knew and worked with. I just had a hard time wrapping my brain around the sounds.

It was like that when Dad called. So strange to hear this voice I knew so well sound so different, sound so marked, when it had always sounded completely natural and everyday to me.

This story does not have a moral. Well, of course it does, but I’m too tired to write about it. And I guess I don’t need to — I don’t think I’m describing anything that anybody has never run into before in one way or another.

***

Tomorrow one of my father’s oldest friends is getting married. This is his second wife, and she’s Vietnamese, and I think Baptist, and we are anticipating no alcohol at the reception, and my family is making emergency plans involving secret signals and silver flasks. He has been obsessed with Vietnam ever since he had to fight there in the 60s, and he came home and dropped out and grew a beard while his then-wife and their children were making vegetable block print posters that said War Is Not Healthy For Children And Other Living Things. He divorced that wife, or maybe she divorced him, in part because he never really came back from the war, in part because of a bunch of things I don’t have the time or calluses to even think about right now because it hurts, and now he’s doing something that involves a Return of sorts for him. I don’t pretend to get it, though I think I could. On some level. He has a son and grandson in Auburn, a son and granddaughter in Berlin, a son in jail, a daughter and two grandkids in Saraland, and a daughter in Colorado. He has an ex-wife with a heart condition, a brain full of knowledge about building furniture, a Scottish love of malt and barley, a serious problem with what might be called the Urge To Get Ahead in a Corporate American sense, and a deadly love of kimchee. Tomorrow he will have all of that plus a Vietnamese wife who doesn’t condone drinking.

***

It’s not that people can’t change. It’s that they just plain don’t, very often.

***

Which is fuel for the theory that Bach did not compose the Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

***

Which leaves very little room for Inspiration. It’s just that fresh air is so helpful for that sort of thing, and when you don’t get much of it, you despair of inhaling that which is worthwhile and fear instead the endless recycling of the old, tired, dusty, and defensive.

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